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Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael shoot down ban on hare coursing and proposal to postpone reducing €30bn deficit


Michael McGrath says there were ‘robust discussions’. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Michael McGrath says there were ‘robust discussions’. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Michael McGrath says there were ‘robust discussions’. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

A Green Party plan to postpone reducing the budget deficit until the State has the "capacity to repay" its debts was shot down by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the government talks.

Proposals to ban hare coursing, some live animal exports and de-fund the greyhound industry were also resisted by the Civil War parties.

A document seen by the Irish Independent outlines the language submitted by the Greens on the contentious issue of reducing the deficit, which is expected to hit €30bn this year as a result of the Covid emergency spending measures.

The Greens, led by finance spokesperson Neasa Hourigan, repeatedly expressed concern that committing to balancing the books during a period of recession would lead to austerity. But Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil demanded a clear commitment to deficit reduction during the lifetime of the next government. The programme for government states: "As the economy returns to growth and employment growth is restored, the deficit will be reduced year on year to underpin the sustainability of the public finances."

Ms Hourigan has so far not endorsed the deal, citing concerns over the deficit commitment.

The Greens had wanted to link returning to a balanced budget to specific economic indicators. It proposed that the programme would state: "On putting a spending and investment impetus in place, the management and adjustment of the budget deficit remains and retains an importance. Returning it to balance will be informed by a capacity to repay referenced and influenced by a debt to GNI* (modified gross national income) ratio."

GNI* is a measure of economic activity which strips out the distorting effects of the multinational sector, while the debt to GNI* ratio indicates how indebted the country is compared with the size of its economy.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the deficit was the subject of "robust" discussions, but the document recognises that the public finances will have to be sustainable and "that will require reducing the deficit and the debt as a proportion of our economy".

Ms Hourigan did not respond to calls. Green Party negotiator Roderic O'Gorman insisted the parties have agreed that only when the economy grows will the deficit be addressed.

"This approach allows the economy to do the heavy lifting and does not involve austerity," he said.

The Greens also sought to ban hare coursing and wanted to de-fund the greyhound racing industry which receives millions of euro in State funding every year.

However, Fianna Fáil TDs insisted both activities should be protected and ruled out any changes to existing policy.

The Greens also pushed for a ban on live animal exports to non-EU countries, but this was rejected as it would have a devastating impact on farming.

The three parties clashed in the final days of the talks over the Green's demands that there be a 2:1 split in favour of public transport spending over new roads.

The Greens insisted funding for road maintenance should be included in the annual roads budget. However, the other two parties insisted it would be unsafe to reduce the road maintenance budget.

Irish Independent